published : 2023-09-07

Burmese Photojournalist Receives 20-Year Prison Sentence for Reporting on Cyclone Aftermath

Sentence Considered One of the Harshest for Journalists Since Military Seized Power

A photo of Sai Zaw Thaike, the Burmese photojournalist sentenced to 20 years in prison for reporting on the cyclone aftermath. (Taken with a Nikon D850)

A photojournalist for an underground news agency in Burma has been sentenced to 20 years in prison with hard labor for his coverage of a deadly cyclone's aftermath.

The journalist, Sai Zaw Thaike, works for the independent online news service Myanmar Now and his sentence is believed to be one of the most severe for any journalist detained since the military takeover in February 2021.

Burma, also known as Myanmar, ranks as the world's second-biggest jailer of journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders. The country's press freedom index is one of the lowest in the world.

Sai Zaw Thaike was tried, convicted, and sentenced by a military tribunal during his first court hearing. The proceedings took place inside Insein prison in Yangon, where he has been jailed since his arrest in the western state of Rakhine.

An aerial view of the devastation caused by Cyclone Mocha in Rakhine state, Myanmar. (Taken with a DJI Phantom 4 Pro)

The journalist was denied legal representation and family visits throughout the trial. Myanmar Now's Editor-in-Chief, Swe Win, stated that this sentencing exemplifies the suppression of press freedom under the military junta's rule.

Sai Zaw Thaike was arrested on May 23 in the aftermath of Cyclone Mocha, which caused significant damage and loss of life in Rakhine state. The storm particularly affected the persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority.

Initially indicted on several charges, including treason and sedition, the journalist also faced allegations of incitement, spreading false news, and online defamation.

Myanmar Now, which operates underground, confirmed the conviction but could not ascertain which specific charges were included in the sentencing.

A portrait of Rohingya refugees affected by Cyclone Mocha in an internal displacement camp in Rakhine state, Myanmar. (Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV)

The military-installed government in Burma has intensively cracked down on independent media since the coup, with numerous media outlets having their licenses revoked and numerous journalists arrested, detained, or even killed.

Despite facing immense challenges, Myanmar Now remains determined to continue providing news to the people of Myanmar.